Reporting Diversity
Curriculum Modules

Curriculum Module One

The Scenario and Study materials

Overview

One of the most significant ways the media influence society is in the way they portray the taken-for-granted world, the things it is assumed that “we” all know.

In the reporting of issues relating to our multicultural society, the media either reinforce stereotypes about ethnic groups or they dispel misconceptions about other cultures.

Individual journalists aren’t alone in making decisions about how a set of events are portrayed, but they do control what goes into their notes and what priorities they assign in writing a report.

Sometimes national issues of race and ethnic stereotyping are played out in the most domestic of circumstances. For example, from time to time the adoption of religious dress is the source of conflict in local communities. In recent years, the wearing by women of Islamic dress, from the hijab to the burqa, has been a focus of community attention and debate, mostly negative.

Opponents of this public display of religious devotion claim it is evidence of the oppression of Muslim women “forced to hide” from the gaze of men. Exponents say there is nothing wrong with an expression of modesty. What starts as a debate about freedom of expression and individual rights can quickly become an argument about racist attitudes as stereotypical assumptions about other cultures are brought to bear.

This module explores a potential news story involving allegations of racist discrimination against Muslim netballers. The dispute about netball uniforms is, on the face of it, about club rules and conformity. But the interviews take on a different flavour. As the various parties present their views about the oppression or liberation of girls required to cover their bodies, assimilation emerges as an underlying theme for the journalist’s consideration. This raises a series of deeper questions for the journalist which will directly affect the tone of the reporting.
Some of these questions are:

  • Why is the netball club management threatened by the idea that some players want to wear scarves and long trousers when they play?
  • If girls who cover up are “decent” and “modest”, what does that suggest about girls who don’t?
  • If Muslim girls veil themselves against the improper gaze of Muslim men, does that mean non-Muslim girls should fear the gaze of Muslim men?
  • Does the Muslim “dress code” mean that Muslims disapprove of the way the way that non-Muslims dress and live?
  • If they do, does this make them “un-Australian”?
  • Should people be required to leave their beliefs and values behind when they settle in a country with a different dominant culture?
  • Why would the local Member of Parliament get involved in a club dispute about uniform codes?

The Scenario

One of your friends alerts you to an uproar in the local netball competition. She tells you that the State Netball Association has banned Muslim girls from wearing headscarves when they play, effectively forcing them out of the competition. You call the president of the SNA, Ms Ball, who confirms the ban. You also speak to the local Member of Parliament who says the real issue is protecting the freedom of Australian-born Muslim girls to be like all other Australians. You also speak to the mother of one of the girls affected by the ban. A transcript of these interviews in provided in these notes.

The following questions provide a guide for analysing this scenario from a journalist’s perspective. In considering these questions, you may refer to the resources provided in these materials.

  1. Should this story be reported? Why?
    To answer this question, you will need to consider the basic news values – impact, timeliness, proximity, conflict, currency and unusualness – and how they apply to this scenario. You need to consider the relative newsworthiness of the story. You will also need to consider if the public interest is being served by reporting the story and the potential impact of the story?
     
  2. Can the ethical values in this story be balanced with journalistic and commercial values?
    Sometimes the damage done by reporting is greater than the public good that is served by bringing an issue to public attention. Use one of the models for ethical decision making to work through the issues. To answer this question, you may wish to refer to the “ten questions to guide the journalist through the decision making process” outlined by Black, Steele and Barney (1997:61).
     
  3. Are the interviewees appropriate? Are any voices missing from the story?
    The sources that a journalist chooses to interview and the interview material the journalist chooses to use directly affect what is eventually reported. In this case, several interviews have been conducted. Consider whether the people interviewed are the most appropriate sources of information and also who else might be interviewed.

    What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these sources and what information can you reasonably expect to get from them? You will need to consider if information is specific or generalised, if and how it can be verified, and whether interviewees have an undeclared motive. All these factors and more affect the amount of credibility assigned to each source.
     

  4. How should this story be reported?
    The decisions a journalist makes about what to emphasise in a story directly affects how the information the public gets. What you choose to include and omit will affect what the audience understands from the story. This in turn affects what the audience understands about the culture described and how it might affect them. Journalists must be careful to not reinforce inaccurate cultural stereotypes which damage the ability to people to live in harmony.

    Sometimes the demands of the newsroom seem to be at odds with the result of the private exchange between reporter and subject. You need to approach negotiations with the editor armed with facts about the harm negative stereotypes can cause.
     
  5. Have you assumed anything?
    Have assumed that you “know” anything about the issues here or have you verified all your facts? What are the main points you have collected? What is the most newsworthy aspect of the story? What then is the predominant news value you will apply to this story? Are the essential elements of “who, what where, when why and how” always essential in a lead? Why? Is your story fair and balanced?
     
  6. What headline would you write for this story?
    The headline applied to a story very directly influences the way a story is understood. That is because the headline focuses the whole story into just a few words. What aspect of the story does your headline emphasise? Why have you chosen to highlight these particular news values?
Black, J., Steele, B. & Barney, R. (1997) Doing Ethics in Journalism: A Handbook with Case Studies, 3rd edn, Allyn and Bacon: Society for Professional Journalists

Transcript of Interviews

INTERVIEW 1: Ms Sharon Ball (President, State Netball Association)

REPORTER: Is it true that girls from the City West Netball Club have been banned from the State competition for wearing Muslim headscarves?

MS BALL: They have not been banned from the competition. They have been banned from wearing the scarves with their uniforms. I am not racist - it is a question of dress code.

REPORTER: But they have to wear them, so they can’t play…

MS BALL: It’s their decision. It is a question of equity – one rule for all. I don’t see why these girls should be forced to cover up – there is nothing indecent about a netball uniform. It is offensive to suggest there is. Girls playing in track pants and long sleeves under their uniform look ridiculous, let alone when they are wearing scarves as well.

INTERVIEW 2: Mr Darrin Lee (Local member)

REPORTER: Mr Lee, I understand you are concerned about the criticism levelled at State Netball for banning headscarves for Muslim players. Why have you entered this debate?

MR LEE: I believe these girls need protection from fundamentalist parents who stop them assimilating into Australian society. Decent Muslims should be taught to respect women, not make them hide themselves. We all know Muslim youth have problems in coming to terms with their identity - especially when there is conflict between value systems at school and at home.

REPORTER: Why aren’t religious reasons an acceptable justification?

MR LEE: Allowing Muslims to wear the scarf while playing sport upsets national integration of the Muslims in particular. The scarf issue could be considered an issue that could bring more division and that allow it to be worn by one netball team would upset people of other faith. It is an issue of social integration.

REPORTER: But the girls have said they would feel too uncomfortable without their scarves…

MR LEE: The underlying rationale for the scarf is that women should cover their crowning glory so as not to provoke feelings of "lust" in men. In Australian society we have progressed to the view that it is men's responsibility to control their sexual urges whatever women are wearing.

INTERVIEW 3: Mona Samander (Mother)

REPORTER: Mrs Samander, why should your daughter and her team mates be allowed a different dress code to other players?

MRS S: Schools must "reasonably accommodate'' their students' religious practices, for example by letting them wear hijabs or Jewish skullcaps, so I don’t see why sporting groups are any different. Not-for-profit private sports associations aren't exempt from the legal notion of "reasonable accommodation'' of religious practices.

REPORTER: Why is this issue so important to you?

MRS S: To ban headscarves is an extreme measure that only adds to the feelings of alienation and victimisation in sections of the Muslim community. We want our girls to be able to play sport and lead a healthy life. Why is modesty so offensive to some people?

Return

Member : Murdoch UniversityMember: Griffith UniversityMember: University of South AustraliaMember: Media MonitorsMember: SBSMember: University of CanberraMember: Journalism Education AssociationMember: University of Western Sydney
Department of Immigration and Citizenship